Here’s a choice bit from Tom Shales’ Washington Post review of last night’s ABC-sponsored Democratic debate, headlined, “In Pa. Debate, The Clear Loser Is ABC:”

[A]nother step downward for network news — in particular ABC News, which hosted the debate from Philadelphia and whose usually dependable anchors, Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, turned in shoddy, despicable performances.

And later, pointing to earlier cable-sponsored debates: “Cable news is indeed taking over from network news, and merely by being competent.”

Shales’ counterpart at the New York Times, Alessandra Stanley, was far less harsh, focusing less on the quality of the questions asked (or the answers offered) and more on the (far more important, naturally) personal dynamics (Stephanopoulos and Clinton, etc).

The Post’s straight news story on the debate reported that: “[Obama] repeatedly found himself on the defensive here Wednesday night as he sought to bat away criticism of his remarks about small-town values, questions about his patriotism and the incendiary sermons of his former pastor,” and the candidates ” sparred over gaffes, missteps and past statements” — almost as if the moderators weren’t there at all, prompting any of this.

In the Times, Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny seemed to actually view the moderators and their questions favorably, writing of “a tough round of questions posed by Mr. Stephanopoulos and Mr. Gibson, who in many ways presented a mirror image of earlier debates in which two NBC moderators, Tim Russert and Brian Williams, repeatedly pressed Mrs. Clinton with tough and provocative questions.” (A back-handed compliment?)

Only in the LA Times’ straight news report was it explicitly mentioned that “issues received relatively short shrift,” that “more than an hour went by before a question was asked about what Stephanopoulos called ‘the No. 1 issue on Americans’ minds’ — the economy.”

If you'd like to get email from CJR writers and editors, add your email address to our newsletter roll and we'll be in touch.

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.